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The Problem With Leadership
Any time that we’re leading someone else, we’ll be at least one step away from a situation’s relevant details, but it’s very easy to forget that. Our presuppositions, poor memory and cognitive filters get in the way of us knowing the truth, and that’s not even to mention those times where someone’s fed us a false story in advance of us having to tackle the truth head-on.
As a result, those times that we find out that a project’s over-running or that someone’s turned up late to an important meeting or that someone just flat-out hasn’t done what they should have done, it’s far too easy to leap to conclusions and explode in a fit of rage. And even if your temperament means that your version of a fit of rage is a quiet moment of disappointment, the truth that we’ve overreacted to something without knowing everything that we ought to remains true.
Why You Can Misunderstand
In Richard Bandler and John Grinder’s influential work The Structure of Magic: A Book About Language and Therapy, they use the example of how you might visualise the scene if you were a therapist and your client simply said to you, ‘Mary hurt me:’
Perhaps you had an image of Mary physically striking the client, or perhaps an image of Mary saying something mean to the client. You may have had an image of Mary walking through the room that the client was sitting in without speaking to the client.
The point they’re making is that even in as simple a situation as someone saying a very straightforward sentence, you may interpret that in a whole host of ways, none of which may be true.
The Advantage of Honesty
An unfortunate fact of life is that things go wrong; people make mistakes, circumstances get in the way and life has a way of hurling unexpected problems in our path. No matter how skilled and trustworthy the person you’re delegating a task to, there’s always a chance that something will trip things up, and steeling yourself beforehand to be able to pause before reacting is something that will remove fear from an equation.
When your people are willing and eager to be open with you about exactly what’s going on, rather than feeling that they have to hide anything that’s imperfect, they’ll perform better because they’ll be more confident, your trust in them will increase because you’ll feel that you know the whole truth, and their fullest potential is more capable of being realised, empowered by your leadership.
Patrick Lencioni explores this concept in Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears that Sabotage Client Loyalty. In it, he argues that by embracing vulnerability over fear, you’re positioning yourself better to make sales and serve your clients. Ultimately, you want your people to serve you (their client) better, so developing this sort of environment for them by taking a step back before reacting to negative scenarios is serving everyone well.
Next time, try this three-step process:
- Believe the best of the person. as Stephen Covey said: "We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour." We'd rather others assume that we'd not intended to mess up, so let's extend that courtesy to others.
- Ask them what caused the problem on this occasion, rather than guessing at what might have happened. Their perspective will be unique and valid.
- If there’s any doubt, then choose to lean towards forgiving the failure, for two reasons. Firstly, you know that’s what you’d rather your boss would do with you if you were in their shoes, and treating others as you'd like to be treated is a good general principle in life. And secondly, you'll win their trust, likely increasing their honesty and efforts in future.